After the Storm

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

An arty Japanese movie, undubbed. Not for those who don't like reading subtitles, therefore. But it's pretty OK.

The protagonist is Ryôta, who's kind of a mess. He used to be a novelist, publishing his first book to critical acclaim, but didn't manage to follow up. He's now a private investigator, and not an honorable one: when he gets the goods on a cheating wife, he and his partner offer to keep the news from their client, her husband, for a price. Sleazy!

He's also divorced, with a cute son. And due to a nasty gambling habit, he's behind on his child support payments.

(Did you know that in Japan, they bet on bicycle races? Neither did I. But don't worry, Ryôta also buys lottery tickets, a more American tax on irrational innumeracy.)

There's also a meddling (but very sweet and funny) mother. And an impending typhoon.

It's a pretty good movie to remind us of a couple things: first: Japan is wonderfully weird. But second: not that weird; everyone here operates with emotions and motivations and foibles that are instantly recognizable to any red-blooded American. That's sort of comforting in these "diverse" times.

The Limehouse Golem

[1.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

So I thought a golem was some sort of Yiddish-legend Frankenstein-monster. Check Wikipedia… yeah, that's pretty much right.

So I'm not sure where this movie's title came from. There's no indication that anyone here is Jewish, and the movie's "Golem" is just a plain old serial killer, not a supernatural claymation monster.

Unless they explained this in one of the stretches where I was asleep. I can't say that's unlikely. I dozed off pretty solidly for awhile there. Not enough to deter me from counting this movie as "seen in 2020", though.

Uh, the plot: in Victorian-era London the Golem is killing people, but there's also the gruesome poisoning of John Cree, husband of Elizabeth. Suspicion naturally falls upon her, and she finds herself on whatever it is they called Death Row back there and then. But Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy) finds evidence possibly linking John Cree to the Golem murders! And did I mention that Elizabeth is a music-hall singer with aspirations, John a struggling playwright?

It's pretty convoluted, perverse, and unbelievable. Karl Marx apparently has a cameo, but I slept through it.

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I bet someone told Annette Bening she was finally going to win an Oscar for this. You've been nominated four times. This time, for sure!

Well, she didn't. But she really acted the crap out of her role here, playing an about-to-die Gloria Grahame. (IMDB trivia: "Annette Bening was fifty-nine-years-old at the time of this movie's release, making her two years older than Gloria Grahame was when she died.")

It centers around Ms. Grahame's 1978-1981 on/off romance with Peter Turner, a young Brit actor. Despite the three-decade age difference, they hit it off. Problems: Gloria's kind of a diva (of course), and is very sensitive to any reference to her age, or her predilection for younger guys. (In real life, she was married four times, the fourth time to her stepson from her second marriage. Scandalous! A female Woody Allen!)

And there are those health worries, which she tries to cure with apricot kernels and black grape juice. She avoids doctors, which doesn't turn out well.

As near as I can tell, no effort was made to recreate Ms. Grahame's amazing eyebrows for Ms. Bening. I swear they arched halfway up her forehead! But maybe I'm imagining that. (Ms. Bening admits she did attempt to mimic Grahame's eyebrow arch.)

A Kiss Before Dying

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

The IMDB puts it in the "film noir" category, which seem contestable to me. But it's OK anyway. This is the 1956 version, and it's star-studded: Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter, Joanne Woodward, and, whoa, Mary Astor. You'd think she'd make it noir by her mere presence, but unfortunately, her role is pretty minor.

Adding to Mrs. Salad's travails: I couldn't help but blurting out "It's Captain Pike!" every time Jeffrey Hunter popped up onscreen.

Anyway, the plot: Robert Wagner is romancing heiress Joanne Woodward, and (in the opening scene) she announces her pregnancy. The fact that Wagner is a devious lying weasel is obvious to all except her. Unfortunately, he's also demanded that she keep their relationship super-secret. Which will make it easier to… well, you know pretty much what the deal is.

The movie is decently twisty and suspenseful, but you kind of have to put up with 1950's-style over-acting. Jeffrey Hunter's character keeps an unlit pipe clenched between his teeth pretty much 24x7.

According to IMDB trivia, Joanne Woodward once stated that she not only considers this the worst of her movies, but the worst Hollywood movie ever made. Come on, Ms. Woodward, it's not that bad.

Also, Mrs. Salad now believes that Robert Wagner killed Natalie Wood. No argument here.

Hangover Square

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

It's billed as a film noir, and it has a lot of the trappings: black and white, tricky lighting, a black-hearted dame bringing misery to our protagonist.

Although the protagonist is pretty miserable all by himself. He's George Harvey Bone, played by a slimmed-down Laird Cregar, a composer of music. He's supposed to be working on a concerto, serious stuff. But he makes the mistake of getting tied up with the devious Netta, a sleazy nightclub singer. George writes her a song, and she immediately figures out that if she can get him to write more songs, she'll be able to sing her way to fame and fortune.

But here's the funny thing: George also has this funny mental problem: when he hears loud discordant noises, he goes a little crazy. No, make that a lot crazy, as in homicidal maniac-crazy. Eventually he snaps out of it, but y'know, not until after he's done some pretty bad shit.

For some reason, as near as I can tell, this malady is not cataloged in DSM–5.

Anyway, things lumber along to a grandiose noirish finish. The acting is over the top, especially when George gets all bug-eyed as he slips into one of his murderous states.

Trivia: did I mention Laird Cregar's loss of weight? This was his last movie. He died in his early thirties, and most people seem to blame his untimely death on his absurdly unhealthy efforts to slim down. He apparently wanted to avoid being typecast as an obese villain. I.e., a heavy. Too bad.

American Assassin

[2.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

We were in the mood for a movie! And we had three Netflix DVDs sitting right there!

And I couldn't get the disc tray on my cheapo Panasonic player to open. Argh.

The next day I detached the player from the TV, brought it downstairs, took the cover off, and… I don't know why, but it worked fine once I took the cover off. And it continued to work after I put the cover back on.

I'm thinking of making a YouTube video with this helpful DIY advice. "Just take the cover off." There, saved you a trip to the Best Buy Geek Squad.

Anyway. I searched around for a streamable movie from Netflix. And this one popped up. It's not that good, although Michael Keaton's in it, and he's good in everything.

The main protagonist is Mitch Rapp, played by Dylan O'Brien. As the movie opens, he's proposing to his sweetie Charlotte, who has approximately two minutes and forty-three seconds left to live, Because, darn the luck, this proposal happens at an Ibiza beach resort targeted by terrorists for mass murder.

Mitch swears revenge, and devotes himself to tracking down the bad guys and wiping them out. And in the process he makes himself enough of a bother to the CIA for them to offer him a job: doing that sort of thing full-time, under the command of very tough boss Stan Hurley (there's Michael Keaton!). And then they're off on a desperate mission to thwart "Ghost", who has an obsession of his own: swipe some weapons-grade plutonium from Russia in league with some Iranian hardliners, assemble a bomb, and use it… for what exactly?

Special effects, baby.

Anyway, there's a lot of violence along the way. ("Rated R for strong violence throughout, some torture, language and [all too] brief nudity.")

The Hunt

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I liked it OK. Not proud of that, but I look favorably upon any movie I manage to stay awake through these days. No problems on that score here.

It takes until the end of the movie to reveal what's really going on, but the superficial take will do: a group of wealthy Trump-hating woke progressives drug and kidnap a dozen MAGA types from across the country, whisking them off in a private jet to a remote location where they're used as target practice. Thereby confirming right-wing speculation that the lefties really buy into their eliminationist rhetoric.

When it comes to Crystal, one of the designated victims, though: it seems she's a little more qualified in violent self-defense tactics.

There's some plot twistiness along the way, involving how the victims were selected, and the deadly game's origins. And (should you decide to watch it) you might want to brush up on Orwell's Animal Farm ahead of time, there are some pretentious references to that work.

Some stuff just didn't make any sense to me. The victims are initially fitted with locked collars and gags, then provided with the keys. Why? When we first see Crystal, she's magnetizing a needle to use as a makeshift compass. What good would that possibly do her?

Trivia note: the Pride of Lincoln, Nebraska, Hillary Swank, has won two Best Actress Oscars. And now she's in schlock like this. She's good, but… If you're in show biz, you take the roles you can get, I suppose.

True Believer

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

We saw this movie back when it first came out on VHS, 1990 or so. And for some reason, I got the urge to watch it again, so into the Netflix DVD queue it went. Some movies don't hold up on rewatching, but I enjoyed it again.

James Woods plays Eddie Dodd, New York lawyer operating out of a shabby office near Chinatown. Once a famous left-wing advocate for the poor and downtrodden, champion of trendy social causes, he's become cynical, specializing in defending (uniformly guilty) drug dealers. He suppresses his sadness with copious amounts of marijuana.

But Eddie acquires an idealistic young assistant, played by Robert Downey, Jr. Who browbeats him into taking a case brought in over the transom by a tearful Chinese mom: her son's in Sing Sing, being prosecuted for killing a would-be Nazi assassin in self-defense. That's easy enough to fix, but the son's in the slammer for allegedly killing a gang leader in Chinatown eight years back. Eddie decides to go for a retrial on that charge.

Which involves unravelling what happened back then. Which (as you might expect) troubles the very powerful D. A. who tries to dissuade Eddie from the retrial. Which only makes Eddie more dogged in his pursuit of the truth.

Truth be told, the movie's plot is kind of generic. But I thought (and still think) James Woods was just fantastic in it. He usually plays bad or squirrelly guys. But his performance here is actually heroic.

Brief aside on that "squirrelly": he played "Aldo" in another 80's movie, Eyewitness. And one of the cop characters (Steven Hill) describes him thus: "When he was a kid, Aldo must have wanted to be a suspect when he grew up."

The Invisible Man

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I'm sure that people out there have commented that this movie really should be called "Mrs. Invisible Man". Or "Bride of the Invisible Man". Because, truth be told, the movie's really about her. She's in nearly every scene. In fact, we don't see the Invisible Man much at all!

Hah, see what I did there?

Anyway, Elisabeth Moss plays Cecilia, wife of the title character. Her husband, Adrian, has become a tad abusive, demanding that she produce offspring, keeping her a virtual prisoner in their palatial San Francisco mansion. Yeah, he's got a pile of money from his career in inventing optical stuff.

Cecilia escapes from his clutches in the opening scenes, starts to make a better life for herself. And Adrian allegedly commits suicide. Only problem is, odd things start happening to Cecilia. She gets the feeling she's being watched. She goes to a job interview with an architectural firm, only to discover that the portfolio she lovingly brought along has gone missing! Wha…?

Well, just like H. G. Wells' original, Adrian (who faked his suicide) finally turns to violence and murder. And Cecilia must rely on her wits to battle him. This part is pretty good, but it takes way too long for the movie to get there.

Ad Astra

[1.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Wow, I was really surprised at how much I disliked this movie. A big budget. A couple stars I like, Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones. Pretty good reviews from the professionals. But I kept nodding off…

It's set in the near future where travel within the inner solar system is an everyday thing. Brad plays Roy McBride, an astronaut famous for keeping his cool head in a crisis. But his dad (Mr. Jones) set off to Neptune years back on an extraterrestrial intelligence hunt, disappeared, and is presumed dead.

Except the inner solar system is now being bombarded with weird emanations seemingly coming from the Neptunian area, wreaking havoc with power supplies and communications. Can't have that! So (this is complicated), Roy gets drafted into communicating a message to his dad. Which must be sent from Mars. Which involves first stopping on the Moon. And Roy has abandonment issues with Dad. And there's a lot of secrecy involved in the mission. And Roy's marriage to Liv Tyler is rocky because of his emotional distance or something. (Isn't she shy of getting involved with space guys from Armageddon?)

Roy also endures a fall from a huge antenna sticking from the earth's surface into space; encounters with moon pirates with lunar dune buggies; face-eating space monkeys. None of that has much of anything to do with the main plot.

And (oh yeah) Roy's laser-borne message from Mars to his dad on Neptune: everyone acts like they expect an immediate response. I looked this up: at best, Neptune is about 4 light-hours from Mars. Even an "immediate" response wouldn't show up until at least 8 hours later. For a purportedly-hard SF movie, this is unforgivable.